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My Progress:

11 / 30 books. 37% done!

2024 Literary Escapes Challenge

- Alabama (1)
- Alaska
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- California (3)
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- Georgia (1)
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- Virginia (1)
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- Washington, D.C.* (1)

- Australia (1)
- Canada (1)
- England (8)
- France (1)
- Indonesia (1)
- Ireland (2)
- Italy (1)
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My Progress:

23 / 51 states. 45% done!

2024 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

My Progress:

16 / 50 books. 32% done!

2024 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge

21 / 50 books. 42% done!

Booklist Queen's 2024 Reading Challenge

My Progress:

43 / 50 books. 86% done!

2024 52 Club Reading Challenge

My Progress:

38 / 52 books. 73% done!

2024 Build Your Library Reading Challenge

My Progress:

25 / 40 books. 63% done!

2024 Pioneer Book Reading Challenge

15 / 40 books. 38% done!

2024 Craving for Cozies Reading Challenge

My Progress:

9 / 25 books. 36% done!

2024 Medical Examiner's Mystery Reading Challenge

2024 Mystery Marathon Reading Challenge

My Progress

6 / 26.2 miles (second lap). 23% done!

Mount TBR Reading Challenge

My Progress

21 / 100 books. 21% done!

2024 Pick Your Poison Reading Challenge

My Progress:

58 / 104 books. 56% done!

Around the Year in 52 Books Reading Challenge

My Progress

42 / 52 books. 81% done!

Disney Animated Movies Reading Challenge

My Progress

59 / 165 books. 36% done!
Wednesday, December 30, 2020

MG Road Trip Novel Warm, Entertaining, and Illuminating

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

William "Scoob" Lamar is on house arrest after an incident at school for which he was wrongfully blamed.  No one will listen to his side of the story, not even his father.  Feeling resentful, the 11-year-old is only too happy to go along when his 76-year-old grandmother decides to whisk him away on an impromptu road trip.  G'ma explains that they'll be retracing the route through the South that she and Scoob's grandfather took back in 1963.  As an interracial couple, they were rarely well received and had to travel using the Negro Travelers' Green Book to know which establishments would allow them entry.  Scoob can hardly believe such a guide was necessary, but as he—a bi-racial child who presents as Black—and his white grandmother travel through the South, he notices the odd, even threatening, looks they're getting from some people.  It seems to him that maybe things haven't changed much at all in the last 50+ years.

G'ma has always been a spitfire, but as they travel, Scoob starts to notice behavior that's strange even for her.  Is there a reason she's constantly ducking Dad's phone calls?  Is her spur-of-the-moment road trip really about teaching Scoob about the Civil Rights Movement and his own history?  Or is G'ma up to something a little more ... criminal?  

Clean Getaway by Nic Stone is a warm, enjoyable novel that asks readers to consider a serious question—how far has America really progressed when it comes to race relations?  Through the experiences of Scoob and G'ma, which mirror those of G'ma and G'pa in 1963, we can come to our own conclusions.  It's an unsettling but important question that all of us, regardless of ethnicity, would do well to ponder.  Despite its weighty subject matter, Clean Getaway is a funny book as well as a surprising one.  There's plenty of humor as well as mystery and adventure to keep it interesting and appealing.  Of course, it's got thoughtful, poignant moments as well, all of which combine to create an engrossing, moving read.  In addition to powerful lessons about racism, the book also teaches kids about the importance of knowing your own history and learning from grandparents while acknowledging the messiness of family life as well as the fact that there is always more to a person than what we think we know about them.  It's an illuminating book in many ways and one I very much enjoyed.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of When I Hit the Road by Nancy J. Cavanaugh)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for difficult subject matter (racism, parental abandonment, death, etc.) and scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find 

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Top Ten Tuesday: 2020 Top Ten Favorite Reads

Photo cred: Brenna Lee Photo
It's the last Top Ten Tuesday of the year!  Can you believe it?  I'm having trouble grasping the fact that 2020 is over as well as the idea that my oldest will be getting married on Saturday.  So surreal!  It makes sense that the final TTT of 2020 is a list of our top reads of the year.  Although I'm still hoping to sneak in another finish before January 1, as of now I've read 191 books this year.  Of those, I marked 25 with asterisks, indicating they were favorites.  Not including re-reads of past faves like A Christmas Carol, I narrowed my list down to the best of the best—my ten most loved reads of the year.  Although you can't tell from this list (which features mostly fiction by women, the majority of whom are white), I actually read a fair amount of non-fiction as well as lots of books written by men and women of various ethnicities, nationalities, and backgrounds.  These are just the books I happened to like most.  

I'd love to know what your favorite reads of 2020 are.  You should definitely make your own list and join in the TTT fun.  Hop on over to That Artsy Reader Girl for all the details.

My Top Ten Reads of 2020 (in no particular order):

1.  Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker BradleyThis is a devastating, but important and impactful MG novel about domestic violence.  My review.

2.  Land of the Cranes by Aida Salazar—Vivid and searing, this MG novel-in-verse about a family torn apart by controversial U.S. immigration policies is heart-breaking and eye-opening.  Another gutting but essential read.  My review.

3.  The Imperfects by Amy Meyerson—Part mystery, part family drama, this is an engrossing read about a (real) famous jewel and how its (fictional) discovery impacts an ordinary family.  My review.

4.  The Woman in the Green Dress by Tea Cooper—This is an atmospheric historical novel set in Australia that also features a mysterious jewel.  My review.

5.  Beyond the Horizon by Lois Lowry—A moving memoir-in-verse, this slim book recounts the author's experiences as a young girl in Hawaii during the bombing of Pearl Harbor and in post World War II Japan.  My review

6.  Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain—Set in North Carolina in 1960, this heart-wrenching novel focuses on poverty and the routine, forced sterilization of the poor and mentally challenged that took place at that time.  My review.

7.  The Last Blue by Isla Morley—If you loved The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, give this historical novel a try.  It also features the Blue people of Kentucky and is an immersive, intriguing, and tender novel.  My review.

8.  The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson—Speaking of ... I'm not alone in loving this popular book.  It deserves all the accolades it has received.  My review.

9.  The Split by Sharon Bolton—Bolton's newest is a bit of a departure from her usual crime fiction and I loved it.  It's part mystery/suspense, part survival story.  My review.

10.  Where the Lost Wander by Amy Harmon—I love a good pioneer novel and this is exactly that.  It concerns a group of people traveling along the Overland Trail.  My review.

There you go, my ten favorite books of the year.  What were your most-loved reads of 2020?  Have you read any of mine?  I'd truly love to know.  Leave me a comment on this post and I'll gladly return the favor on your blog.

Happy TTT!    

It's Ally Carter! What More Do I Need to Say?

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

April might be temporarily caught within the foster care system, but she's not like other foster kids.  Not only is her mother alive, but she's also coming back for April just as soon as she can.  The other children might laugh at her for believing in the promise pledged in the note that was left at the fire station along with 3-year-old April, but April knows her mom would never totally abandon her.  She just needs to be patient.  

Patience has never been April's strong suit, which is how she ends up setting a museum exhibit on fire.  The incident brings her to the attention of a charity funded by the wealthy Winterborne Family, which has decided to house a group of foster children in its ornate mansion.  Gabriel, the Winterborne heir, disappeared ten years ago, leaving a great mystery in his wake.  April's entranced by the thought of solving it while also figuring out why the necklace April's mother left her bears the Winterborne crest.  The answers must be inside the great mansion, but where?  The place is massive and crammed full of tantalizing secrets ... Can April unravel its many puzzles, including the mystery of her own past?

If you've read books by Ally Carter before, you're not going to be at all surprised to hear that her newest, Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valor, is a sassy, upbeat read that's full of adventure and mystery.  It stars a diverse cast of middle-schoolers who are sympathetic and likable, along with peripheral grown-ups who add additional layers of intrigue to the tale.  Revealed in short, exciting chapters, the plot is compelling and engrossing, making the book an enjoyable page-turner.  While this first book in a planned series answers some of the questions its plot poses, it leaves plenty more to be revealed in a sequel (or two).  I, for one, am eagerly anticipating the second book!

(Readalikes:  The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin and The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for violence and scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Mystery/Family Drama Novel a Nuanced, Touching Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Ever since her dad died three years ago, Maddy Gaines' anxiety has been out of control.  The 11-year-old sees danger lurking around every corner, even if no one else does.  She's made so many emergency calls to local authorities that they don't take her seriously anymore.  So, when she meets a mysterious boy setting booby traps in the cemetery, a boy who looks an awful lot like one who went missing six months ago, Maddy knows she can't take her knowledge to the police without proof that the kid really is Billy Holcom.  Maddy is warned off the hunt by her arch enemy, who insists the boy is just his visiting cousin.  She won't be thwarted that easily, not when she's discovered a real emergency, but she will be sure to gather proof this time.  The boy is Billy and Maddy aims to make sure he's found.  When she discovers a reason he might need to stay hidden, however, she realizes that not everything is as it seems.  Is she truly rescuing the kid or putting him in more danger?

Every Missing Piece by Melanie Conklin is a nuanced middle-grade novel that's part mystery, part family drama.  Maddy has a lot to deal with—grief over losing her dad, managing her anxiety, accepting her new, trying-too-hard stepfather, and grappling with a BFF who's leaving Maddy behind as she grows up too fast—even before she starts playing detective.  Her earnestness is appealing, making her a character who's easy to like and root for.  Plot-wise, Every Missing Piece is exciting and engrossing.  The book is also full of subtle lessons about friendship, family, and figuring out how to adapt when change rocks your safe, orderly world.  Every Missing Piece is a touching novel that I very much enjoyed.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me a bit of Closer to Nowhere by Ellen Hopkins)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for violence, tough subject matter (death of a parent, domestic violence, etc.), and scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find  

Monday, December 28, 2020

Harrowing Korean War Novel a Tense, Compelling Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Living in North Korea means being on guard at all times.  The Pak family knows they must never criticize the government, they must always attend Communist meetings, and they cannot trust their neighbors to keep their secrets.  Above all, they have to keep their Bible well hidden, so that their illegal Christian beliefs are never revealed.  In addition to all of society's rules, 12-year-old Sora also lives under the constant watch of her overbearing mother, who insists Sora follow traditional female roles.  Although she's smart and ambitious, Sora is no longer allowed to attend school.  Instead, she cooks, cleans, watches her younger brothers, and in all ways prepares to be a proper wife in an arranged marriage.  Sora loves her 8-year-old brother, Youngsoo, but she can't help feeling resentful and jealous of his privileged status as a beloved oldest son.  If Sora could only continue her education, she knows she could make her family proud of her, even if she is only a lowly daughter.  

With the threat of war looming over the country, the Pak family has more serious concerns.  Like many of their neighbors, they decide to leave their home and flee to the south, where they hope to find safety.  Attempting to escape North Korea is considered treason, so Sora and her family sneak off in the night.  When a bomb drops nearby, she and Youngsoo are separated from their parents.  Knowing they cannot return home, the children set off on the 400-mile journey to Busan, South Korea, on their own.  The trip will be treacherous, full of danger around every turn.  Can the pair survive hunger, illness, freezing weather, wild animals, exhaustion, and—scariest of all—other terrified refugees, to reach their goal?  Or will they become more innocent casualties of a despotic regime determined to terrorize its citizens into submission? 

Brother's Keeper, a debut novel by Julie Lee, is loosely based on the experiences of the author's mother during the Korean War.  It tells a harrowing story that's as fascinating as it is haunting.  Sora is a very sympathetic character whose frustrations are authentic and relatable.  She's brave, determined, and loyal, all of which make her a heroine who's admirable and root-worthy.  The plot is compelling, with lots of tense action to keep it exciting.  Although Brother's Keeper is a sad book, it's also poignant, illuminating, and touching.  I've never read a novel about the Korean War, but this one made me eager to learn more.  I enjoyed it.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of The Girl With Seven Names by Hyeon-seo Lee)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for violence, difficult subject matter, and scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Family Drama Unfocused But Still Impactful

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

With six people in their household, life with the Mannings has always been crazy, loud, and fun.  Twelve-year-old Zinny especially enjoys hanging out with Gabriel, her 18-year-old brother, with whom she always has a great time.  When Gabriel is involved in a serious car accident, it throws their close-knit family for a loop.  Even though Gabriel is not injured, he's taken to a hospital—a facility that treats people with mental illnesses.  According to the doctors, Zinny's beloved brother has bi-polar disorder.  Her parents don't know what to do with the diagnosis, so they make Zinny and her siblings promise not to tell anyone what is going on.  Although she can't quite understand the need for secrecy, she agrees to keep mum.

As the weeks pass, all of Zinny's parents' time seems to be taken up with visiting Gabriel, arguing with the insurance company, and talking to therapists.  Zinny's siblings are dealing with Gabriel's situation in their own ways.  The Manning family feels more fractured than it ever has.  Zinny has so many worries that she needs to share, but she can't let her frustrations out without betraying her parents.  Even though she's been invited to attend a special lunch club/support group at school for kids dealing with various difficult issues, she's not about to share what's going on at home.  The longer Gabriel is in the hospital, the more anxious Zinny feels.  If she can't express all the emotions boiling up inside her she's going to burst.  Can she find a way to get the help she needs?  Will her family ever be whole again?  

My Life in the Fish Tank by Barbara Dee is a thoughtful novel about mental illness and how it affects all members of a family.  Although Zinny's victimhood gets old, her emotional roller coaster ride in the wake of her brother's diagnosis feels authentic.  Without a solid story goal, though, her tale feels more episodic than focused.  There's no real plot at the center of My Life in the Fish Tank, which makes the whole story feel a little loosey-goosey.  Still, it features likable characters and teaches some valuable lessons about the importance of feeling and expressing one's emotions, being a true friend, getting help when needed, taking the stigma out of mental illness, and dealing with unexpected changes.  I liked it, didn't love it.


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for difficult subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

MG Debut Accessible and Empowering

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When Isaiah Dunn's father dies unexpectedly, it throws his family a devastating curveball.  Four months later, Isaiah's mom is drinking too much, his little sister is needier than ever, and the whole family is living in a dingy hotel room that smells like smoke.  With the constant threat of homelessness hanging over their heads, 10-year-old Isaiah knows he needs to do something.  He's trying to stay out of trouble at school and find a lucrative part-time job, neither of which is working out too well.  Isaiah's father thought Isaiah was a super hero—he even wrote stories about it—but Isaiah just feels like a failure.  How can he save his family?  He needs the super human skills of all the Avengers combined to pull this one off, but all he has is himself.  Isaiah is just a child.  How can he save the day?

Isaiah Dunn Is My Hero, a debut novel by Kelly J. Baptist, is a slim novel that packs a big punch.  It deals with some tough subjects, but it does so in an accessible, age-appropriate, and hopeful way.  Isaiah is a relatable character who's sympathetic and admirable while still feeling real.  His story teaches many lessons about being yourself, working toward goals, using your talents, and asking for help when you need it.  Isaiah Dunn Is My Hero is a poignant, touching, empowering novel that I enjoyed very much.

(Readalikes:  Um, I can't think of anything.  Can you?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for difficult subject matter (alcoholism, homelessness, poverty, etc.)

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

MG Women's Rights Novel Important, Enjoyable

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Brigid "Bridie" Gallagher has experienced nothing but hardship in her eleven years.  The potato famine in Ireland killed her father and brothers, then her mother died in America, leaving Bridie orphaned, alone, and locked in a debtors' prison.  When she's freed, it's only to become a servant for an abusive family.  Fed up with being mistreated, Bridie flees.  In Seneca Falls, New York, she meets Rose Wilson, a Black girl her own age.  Rose finds her new friend a position in the household of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a well-known abolitionist and feminist.  Bridie has never met a stranger woman than her new employer.  The more time she spends with her, however, the more Bridie learns about Stanton's advocacy for women's rights.  However revolutionary her ideas might be, both Bridie and Rose become supporters of the cause.  Like Stanton, they want their voices to be heard, even if not everyone is willing to hear them.  Change doesn't come without a fight and the two girls are ready for battle!  Aren't they?

With the recent 100th anniversary of the passing of the 19th Amendment of the United States' Constitution, Starting from Seneca Falls by Karen Schwabach is a timely novel aimed at helping young readers learn about the struggle that finally resulted in women being granted the right to vote.  While this might not seem like a terribly exciting topic for a middle-grade book, it's still an important one.  Not only does Schwabach bring 19th Century America to life with vivid period detail but she also introduces readers to important historical figures like Stanton, Frederick Douglass, and Lucretia Mott.  Although Bridie and Rose are fictional, they're sympathetic and likable, making them easy heroines to root for.  Starting From Seneca Falls addresses a lot of issues—maybe too many—which makes the story feel a bit unfocused.  Without a concrete story goal, Bridie's tale is especially loosey-goosey.  Still, I enjoyed this novel overall.  It discusses important topics in a story that moved along swiftly enough to keep my attention.

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything.  You?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for violence, disturbing subject matter, and scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Debut MG Novel a Spuderrific Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Potatoes have never been good to 12-year-old Ben Hardy.  Now that he's living in small-town Idaho in the heart of spud country, he feels positively cursed by his least favored vegetable.  A for-instance: after accidentally causing the school mascot to fall and sprain his ankle, Ben is sentenced to finishing out the season as Steve the Spud.  There are only two weeks left, but that's plenty of time for all of Ben's popularity plans to go straight down the toilet.  If his classmates know he's the one inside the dorky potato man suit?  That's it for Ben.  He'll go down forever as the nerdiest of nerds.  Since that absolutely cannot happen, he vows to keep his substitute Steve the Spud act top secret.  What could possibly go wrong?

I've read several dozen middle grade novels for the Cybils Awards over the past few months.  Most of them have told heavy, issue-y stories about everything from grief to neglect to homophobia to sexual abuse to drug addiction.  While these topics are timely and important, they also make for tough, sometimes depressing, reading.  After consuming book after book like this, I was definitely ready for something less weighty.  And guess what?  My Life As a Potato, a debut novel by Arianne Costner, was just the ticket!  It's a quick, funny, light-hearted novel that doesn't pretend to be anything but.  Ben's plight might be silly, but it makes for a lot of laughs while teaching some good lessons about honesty, being yourself, and putting in the effort to make the best out of an unpleasant situation.  If you're looking for diversity (this is rural Idaho we're talking about); deep, meaningful subject matter (it's hard to be serious about potatoes); or controversial topics (mashed vs. baked?), you're not going to find it here.  My Life As a Potato is simply a humorous, upbeat, enjoyable novel.  It's never going to win the Newbery, but there's still something to be said for a book that seeks only to entertain.  Personally, I loved it.  Hand this one to reluctant readers and fans of silly humor à
la Gordon Korman, Lincoln Peirce, and Jeff Kinney.

(Readalikes:  books by the authors mentioned above)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of My Life As a Potato with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

MG Challenger Novel a Liked-It-Didn't-Love-It Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Cash, Fitch, and Bird Thomas are three siblings in seventh grade together in Park, Delaware. In 1986, as the country waits expectantly for the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger, they each struggle with their own personal anxieties.

Cash, who loves basketball but has a newly broken wrist, is in danger of failing seventh grade for the second time. Fitch spends every afternoon playing Major Havoc at the arcade on Main and wrestles with an explosive temper that he doesn’t understand. And Bird, his twelve-year-old twin, dreams of being NASA’s first female shuttle commander, but feels like she’s disappearing. 

The Thomas children exist in their own orbits, circling a tense and unpredictable household, with little in common except an enthusiastic science teacher named Ms. Salonga. As the launch of the Challenger approaches, Ms. Salonga gives her students a project—they are separated into spacecraft crews and must create and complete a mission. When the fated day finally arrives, it changes all of their lives and brings them together in unexpected ways.

Told in three alternating points of view, We Dream of Space is an unforgettable and thematically rich novel for middle grade readers.  (Plot summary from publisher)

We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly is an atmospheric novel that highlights an important historical event that I haven't seen addressed in fiction before.  Kelly uses enough detail to vividly recreate the 80's for her 21st Century audience and capture the Challenger-inspired fervor that I remember well, although I was only 10 when the shuttle launched.  These are the elements I enjoyed most in the novel, especially since I found it difficult to connect with the Thomas children.  They all seemed cold, self-absorbed, and just not very likable.  Plotwise, there's not tons going on in We Dream of Space, so it dragged a little bit for me.  While I was particularly moved by Kelly's depiction of the characters' reactions in the immediate aftermath of the Challenger explosion, overall, this book was definitely a liked-it-didn't-love-it read for me.  Too bad.

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything.  You?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for difficult subject matter (Challenger explosion, dysfunctional families, anger, etc.)

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

MG Novel-in-Verse Realistic and Relatable

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Hannah Lincoln's life has always been safe and stable.  The 12-year-old has two caring parents, plenty of friends, and a love of gymnastics and dancing that sustains her.  Her cousin, Cal Pace, has had the opposite experience.  His mother died three years ago leaving him with his drug-addicted father.  His chaotic home life ended with his dad going to prison and Cal coming to live with the Lincolns.  Hannah's childhood has given her confidence and balance.  Cal's has left him with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  

Hannah gets that her cousin's been through a lot, but she can't help feeling resentful of his sudden presence in her life.  Cal acts strangely and has serious anger management issues.  Not only is he bullied at school, but his behavior is causing contention in Hannah's home.  She's trying to be patient and understanding, but Hannah feels like her nice, quiet life is spinning out of control.  Will her family ever go back to normal?  Or will Cal's antics tear them apart for good?

Told in verse, Ellen Hopkins' first novel for middle-grade readers tells a poignant story about two cousins with very different life experiences trying to find common ground.  Closer to Nowhere is a quick read that's realistic and relatable.  Based on the author's own experience, the story paints a vivid, sympathetic picture of how addiction impacts not just the addict but his/her whole family.  While Closer to Nowhere deals with tough subjects, overall it's a hopeful book.  I've enjoyed other books by Hopkins and this one is no exception.  It's a heart-wrenching, empathy-inducing novel that spoke to me.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me a little of Christmas After All by Kathryn Lasky)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for violence and difficult subject matter (drug abuse, alcoholism, divorce, school shootings, etc.)

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of Closer to Nowhere from the generous folks at Penguin Random House via those at NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Merry Christmas!

To all of my wonderful readers and blogging friends, may you have a very Merry Christmas!  Even though your holidays might look a little different this year, I hope you make time to relax, make merry, spend time with loved ones and, of course, read a good book (or two or three ...).  Stay healthy and safe.  

I love this video about the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Enjoy!

Dress Code Problems Amongst Other Discussion-Worthy Topics in Contemporary MG Novel

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Tired of the administration's prejudiced and uneven enforcement of the school dress code, 14-year-old Molly Frost decides to take matters into her own hands.  She starts a podcast featuring the stories of students who have been unfairly targeted.  The episodes highlight a host of issues surrounding the dress code that Molly feels like no one is paying attention to, including sexism, body-shaming, racism, and sexual harassment.  The podcast starts a revolution, which leads to a peaceful but passionate protest.  The students at Molly's middle school want change and they won't stop until they get it.

In the middle of the dress code bruhaha, the Frost family is having a crisis of their own.  Molly's trouble-making older brother, Danny, has been caught vaping and selling vape pods to younger students.  His bad behavior is causing rifts between him and the rest of the family.  With all that's going on, Molly has a lot on her plate.  How will she cope with it all?  And will her efforts get the results she wants?

No matter how you feel about dress codes and their enforcement (or lack thereof), Dress Coded by Carrie Firestone is a good vehicle for discussing the issue.  The book hits on a number of timely, important topics that middle-schoolers are dealing with every day.  It features likable characters, a compelling plot, and a writing style that is warm and approachable.  Besides the main conflict, it addresses other issues within friendships, families, and communities.  Overall, it's an empowering novel that encourages kids to use their voices to stand up for causes that matter to them.  While I didn't love Dress Coded, I found it to be a quick, thought-provoking read that raises a lot of good questions.  

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything.  You?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for subject matter most suited for readers 8 years and older

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Efrén Divided Provides Intimate Peek at Illegal Immigration Through the Eyes of Those It Impacts Most

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

In many ways, Efrén Nava is just like any other American seventh grader.  He hangs out with his best buddy, hides in the bathroom to get away from his pesky younger siblings, worries about how his ears stick out, wolfs down the food his mom makes, and is forever trying to convince his overprotective parents that he's ready for more independence.  His neighborhood is rundown and his apartment is tiny, but Efrén is surrounded by a caring family and a warm, vibrant Mexican-American community.  He is loved and protected.  And yet, he never quite feels safe.  Although he was born in America, his parents are in the country illegally, as are many of their neighbors and friends.  The threat of ICE raids and deportation is a constant dark cloud looming over them all.  

Efrén's worst fears come true when his mother is arrested and sent back to Mexico.  With his father taking on extra work to earn the money needed to bring her back home, he must step up and take care of his rowdy younger siblings.  In addition to wrangling rambunctious kindergarten twins, he still has to keep up with his schoolwork, help his BFF with a school election, and keep all his fears and worries in check.  Desperate to keep his family's problems a secret, Efrén is exhausted, terrified, and in need of help he's too scared to ask for.  Can he keep it all together so no one finds out what's really going on in his life?  Will his family ever be reunited?  How will Efrén cope when his entire world is falling apart?

No matter how you feel about U.S. immigration policies, border walls, and detention centers, you can't read a book like Efrén Divided by Ernesto Cisneros and not be moved.  The story is fictional, of course, but it mirrors the sad reality of many immigrant families who live lives marked by fear and division every day.  Cisneros provides an intimate peek at what that looks like and how it affects all members of a family that's already just doing its best to get by.  Efrén Divided features sympathetic characters, a compelling plot, and engaging prose.  It's a timely, impactful, discussion-worthy read that teaches empathy while exploring the explosive issue of Mexican immigration to the U.S. through the eyes of those it impacts most.  

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of Land of the Cranes by Aida Salazar)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for difficult subject matter and scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

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